Ignoring the terrible money, lack of job security, people looking down on you and knowing that there are a million other people out there doing exactly what you're doing only better; The fear is undoubtedly the worst part of being a performer. A dark unknown beast; part doubt, part horror-story and part actual potential for failure. Stage fright.
I have the fear. It’s very much a part of who I am. I can find fear in almost every aspect of performing. In many cases it can creep into my everyday life. The mere thought of an upcoming performance turns my stomach to a hallow pit of darkness. The nerves. But not like on the TV. I don’t sit backstage before a show throwing up and refusing to go on. It’s much more quiet than that. It’s a subtle lurking feeling.
When you’re showing work to industry peers it’s almost impossible not to doubt yourself and compare yourself to everyone else. Everyone’s triumphs seem bigger and more lasting than your own. This stings even more knowing it’s born out of my own compulsion to judge others. By being such a judgemental person, I’ve done nothing but sabotage my own successes and self-esteem. In an industry based on opinions it’s very difficult to escape this feeling. No matter how good you are, no matter how hard you’re working, no matter how much good karma you send into the world… not everyone will like you. It’s all subjective and there’s nothing you can do about it. And that’s scary.
So I’m a deranged, judgemental bag of nerves. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part of the fear is…
Every performer’s had that moment. That tiny second where all thoughts fall from your mind and the seconds get longer and longer. Where you frantically scramble for words that no longer exist. You don’t know where you are or what you’re doing or how to fix it. We all fear it because we all know it. We’ve all been there. This is by far the worst part of the fear because there is no way to prepare for it or see it coming. It just happens. And in those few moments everything is destroyed. You blanked. You forgot.
It’s very likely in a few weeks’ time it will all be forgotten and life will continue as normal but this is what we all fear. As time goes on and you do a show more and more the fear starts to disappear. This isn’t because the potential for blanking goes away, but because you become more confident and comfortable in your abilities to sort it out. When you’re performing a show every day you are much better at playing with the moments and shaking things up… and blanking is just a big old shake!
It’s always nice to know that in these horrible moments you’re surrounded by other actors who know what’s going on and are giving and professional enough to help you find your way back without too many people noticing. Although it’s only happened a few times, Bethan has come to recognise the look in my eyes when everything drains down the mental plug hole. Together we can dance around the houses all day long until we get back to where we need to be; not a problem. But now that I’m performing Bleach, that safety blanket has disappeared. If I blank… it’s just me. Alone. Waiting. I just have to hope something comes to me. And you can’t prepare for that. At a point you just have to accept it and deal with it if/when it happens.
A prompt is out of the question. Nothing kills a show like a meek voice from the darkness, inevitably too quiet to be heard by the panicking actor but plenty loud enough to kill any atmosphere build up to that moment. Just hook a large walking stick round my neck and drag me off the stage already!
So, why do I enjoy performing if It fills me with such fear and how to I manage to get on the stage at all?
I would imagine my love of performing to be similar to that of someone who enjoys throwing themselves out of a plane or swimming with sharks. It makes absolutely no sense, but there is an adrenalin pay off of sorts. I have no desire to take my life in my hands while experiencing the thrill of extreme sports (though I am partial to a roller coaster or two) so I guess performing is my equivalent. I can get my kicks while being safe in the knowledge that I will walk out alive, even if having just committed social suicide.
And how I get myself there? It’s the ultimate fight or flight. I put all the plans in place, everything’s ready to go; tickets are sold, lines are learned, moneys been invested. At this point there’s really no going back. Before the show I would, believe me. If I could make it all go away I would. I’d reschedule, of course. But I can’t do that… the show must go on! And it does!
I SLAY THE FEAR!
The shows over and for just a few days, there’s quiet. And there he is again… hello, Fear.